On the 7 – 8 March 2019, over 200 people gathered to discuss the issue of gender parity within the discipline and pedagogy of architecture. The talks and workshops created a call to action for the field as a whole. Below we present some of the key points and outcomes from the event.
The event comprised a number of talks by specialists in the subject of gender equality and diversity in architecture, and provided a number of key points for the afternoon workshops, including, but not limited to:
Naomi Stead, Head of Department Architecture at Monash University, Parlour Group Australia, presented the gender equality roadmap as part of her first keynote talk:
Recommended reading for general strategy and developing equality initiatives: What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Swiss behavioural psychologist and Harvard professor, Iris Bohnet, detailing experimental, evidence-based research into gender bias.
Further stand-out talking points from the talks were:
Jadranka Gvozdanović (Unversity of Heidelberg): “Excellence is the quality of surpassing the norm – but – we can judge it only relative to the norm – and – in practice we judge it based on our internalised norms. The norms and values we have internalised through previous experiences lead to skewed perceptions and judgements: we perceive what is congruent with what we know, and we tend to discard what is not congruent with what we know. Therefore, excellence is not properly understood and we tend to choose those who are similar to us, meaning biased information processing and judgment hamper recognition of excellence.”
Karin Gilland Lutz (University of Zurich): Non-competitive appointments where candidates are sought out and invited to apply can be used strategically to attract more women candidates.
Peg Rawes (University College London): “Situated science: science is a completely cultural form of organization. It is institutional. It has power relations in it.” Institutional support on equality measures is crucial.
Natalie Lerch-Pieper (Paul Scherrer Institut): The Paul-Scherrer Institute has been successful in their equality initiatives because of the importance they have placed on developing a working culture that facilitates equal gender representation. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
Laurent Stalder (ETH Zurich): Advocated for giving more responsibility and visibility to people at the mid-level.
Adam Caruso (ETH Zurich): Suggested that diversification of the professorships will also help to alter the mindset of the department.
Alex Lehnerer (ETH Zurich): Defined a chicken and egg problem: which should come first, parity in practice or parity in academia?
Concluding panel: Asked whether the same qualifications needed in practice are needed for academic success? To what extent should pedagogy be a qualification for professorship?
The five parallel workshops focused on: Unconscious bias (hiring policy and criteria, promotion, evaluation, etc.), Equal opportunities (childcare, parental leave, scheduling policy, etc.), Gender parity at the Department of Architecture, Gender parity in the curriculum and Diversity within School Culture. The outcomes for each workshop, and what would be a working proposition for a path of parity within the field of architecture, are summarised below:
Encourage support networks for women to provide solidarity, mentoring, support, and confidence building.
Visibility of women in higher positions is key to improving gender equality.
Create awareness for unconscious bias. Make the unconscious conscious.
Institutionalise bias training for all levels (interviewers, applicants, especially people in power). Offer the courses online for anonymity.
Overcome your own biases (as an interviewer as well as an applicant).
Provide workshops from an early stage to help women overcome their own biases and build confidence.
Focus on equal opportunities in the sense of equal access to resources.
Applications and evaluations
Identify excellent female candidates, encourage and invite them to apply for positions.
Make the first round of applications anonymous.
Use standardised, formalised applications (agree on criteria in advance, boxes to check to avoid being influenced by non-relevant criteria).
The application processes must be transparent and go through multiple people in order to overcome personal biases.
Because political change is slow, large, multinational companies tend to be ahead, universities and architectural firms must jump onboard and promote equal parental leave. Work on increasing awareness that men are also parents.
Support for student and early-career-parents: Where possible, employers or institutes of higher education should offer flexible working hours, tele-working, and part-time studying.
Men and women should be given the same rights for parental leave and career support.
Core hours for work/life balance
Being more critical about the culture of long-hours and promote more work-life balance.
Meetings, seminars, social events, etc. should take place within core working hours (i.e. 9 – 17h).
All workplaces should offer nursing rooms that are clearly signed and accessible not only to employees, but also to external guests.
Gender parity in architectural curricula
The “star architect”-mechanism is one of the core problems, as it’s mostly men who, in the past, founded large offices, built acclaimed architecture, got appointed to important posts and were included in the curriculum. Diversify the topic to pay tribute not only to the work of the architect but also to those at the drawing table, at the typewriter, etc. (avoid trying to find the female equivalent to Michelangelo).
Comprehension of history not as “history of the winners”, but as an “entangled history” that allows for many-sided entries.
Identify the most canonical references in both theory and studio practices as an impediment to equality in the curriculum. We have to break the canon to develop a different mindset.
Diversity within school culture is something that can be improved through topics chosen by design studios and in lectures as tools to broaden a purely euro-centric and male-dominated education.
Establish new role models.
Practical suggestions: form reading groups, establish core courses on gender studies.
After an insightful, collaborative and engaging day, all attendees agreed that there are many solid steps that architectural practices and academics can take towards gender parity. Through self-reflection, examination of unconscious biases, helping parents achieve a work-life balance without sacrificing their careers, and diversifying architectural curricula, we hope to foster an environment of inclusivity.
Photo: Flora Brühlmann, ETH Zurich